Saturday, May 30, 2009


They closed Rover's Run Trail yesterday. Some call it "Mellen's Way," though the renaming attempt has been foiled by the media which refuse to use the new moniker. Nevermind, though, the trail is closed until October by order of the Parks & Recreation department. It's because of the bears. It's because of the people. It's the fish. It's the wildlife managers.

It's for our protection.

I've biked this trail for years. The year I worked on my book I encountered a black bear sow and two cubs. I skidded to a stop and waited, all the while calling for Jon who was behind me planting trail markers for an event. It made me a bit nervous. A bit more aware, in the same way I'm aware when I'm walking down a street at night in an unfamiliar city or neighborhood. Wary but confident that I can handle whatever arises.

Then last summer the brown bears caused trouble. They seriously mauled two people on the Rover's Run trail, one, a teenage mountain biker. After a runner was attacked, the trail was closed until winter. Two men were also attacked and chased on a trail nearby - the Double-Bubble portion of Spencer Loop. A brownie also chased a runner on the eastern portion of Spencer Loop. Both these trails remained open and are open now.

But Rover's has been closed because it is near a salmon stream, though other trails near the stream have not been closed. I've seen brown bear tracks on a trail across the road from this stream. It has not been closed either.

The trail is not the best one in Anchorage's parks, but it's popular and it connects us to other trails. I happen to live just over two miles from it and commute within a half-mile of the trail on my way to and from work. I'll tell you that it was a bit spooky riding through the park last year, especially after the second mauling. Partly because I arrived at the trailhead to find police tape blocking my exit from the trails I'd just biked; partly because an officer was gathering his gun and gear to head out into the woods to find that bear. But mostly because after that second attack, the park felt abandoned, like an empty street in a nameless city. You felt there should be people there but just didn't know where they were.

Where they were was not in Far North Bicentennial Park. They were in the state park, at Kincaid Park on the west side; they were even on the Resurrection Trail where there are loads of bears and little hope for cell phone service (so I hear from people who have cell phones) in case you need to call for help.

So last year the city told residents to stay off one trail, so people abandoned the entire park. We can assume that bears felt comfortable moving in. Now here we are with the start of the summer mountain biking season and Parks and Recreation is closing down a trail. I'm sure there's been lots of pressure to do so (mostly from people who don't use trails). This is precisely what the city shouldn't do. What they should do is tell every mountain biker, hiker and equestrian to fill those trails. Stop-and-go traffic, fender-to-hoof all along the trail. Weekends, evenings after work. Fill those trails.

Because if we are out there making noise, passing through, causing a commotion, no bear is going to want to choose that trail as a buffet and playground for raising a family. Trouble isn't going to move into a busy park.

For the record, I don't advocate poaching closed trails (esp. when there's a camera and they can always find out who you are so you can be ticketed and it makes all of us look bad as a group), but I do think we all need to make a case for reasonable trail management. Closing one trail is a simplistic solution whose repercusions will resonnate throughout the park. Not in a good way. If people don't think a park is safe, will they fund projects to improve it? Will people schedule events in the park helping put more fees in the city coffers? I think not. The people pressuring Parks & Rec to close this trail should think a little more creatively about how to make our parks safe rather than scaring people away.

rainy days

may the wind be at your back...

After what can only be described as a gorgeous Memorial Day Weekend during which I worked every day, my two days off fell on... the rainy days! Wednesday, I had in mind a hike, but with the showers on the east side, I opted to file all the loose papers in my office instead. In the process I found my thumb drive, a bill that needs to be paid and lots of papers that went into the recycling bag. It was a productive day.

So on Thursday, I was determined to get my hike. I parked at Glen Alps. The wind was blowing down the Powerline trail where I quickly turned onto the Middle Fork trail. It was mucky in places, but much of it was out of the wind that blew from Powerline Pass. It was my first hike of the season and I'm still glad I have my waterproof boots for all the wet areas.

Being out there on a rainy day meant I had the trail to myself much of the time. Alone with the landscape and my thoughts, I moved along the boardwalks and narrow trail, scanning the high slopes for wildlife and signs of fresh snow or ash from this spring's volcanic eruption of Mt Redoubt.
You'll have to open this one to see all the sheep on the slope.

ripples of snow with ash.

Some of the wildflowers were in bloom
thanks to the early spring sunshine,
while trees were just starting to bud.

Partway into the hike I had to decide whether it would be an out-and-back route or a loop. Once I passed the cutoff for Williwaw Lakes, I decided I'd take the trail all the way to Prospect Heights then head straight up the Powerline back to Glen Alps.

Hiking up the powerline, I set a rhythm that reminded me of how it feels to ride my single speed. Too slow and it feels like you're dragging and lose all momentum. It seems it will take forever. Too fast and you wear yourself out. Set the right tempo for yourself, however, and you can maintain that pace for quite a way. In this case, hiking uphill into the headwind for over a mile, once I set my pace, I felt I hadn't bit off more than I could chew. I arrived back at the trailhead just as the after-work crowd started showing up. I was happy to slip into my car and out of the hiking boots before heading back into town where things take on unnatural paces based on other people, clocks and intervals between red lights.

It was good to be out on the trails, even for a somewhat chilly afternoon.

uprooted tree, and all it brings along

Monday, May 25, 2009

fifteen years

aboard the Malaspina ferry, May 1994

Fifteen years ago on Memorial Day, I arrived at my sister's front door in Eagle River, just up the road from Anchorage. I'd made the journey from Milwaukee, Wisc., to Alaska in just over three weeks with a dog as my companion. At the start of the trip, I drove my truck to Minneapolis while my youngest brother drove a U-Haul carrying all my possessions to a house he had just bought in the city. I told him he could borrow my furniture (and my boxes of books, clothes, dishes... everything) while I was in Alaska. Then I took off.

I camped mostly, learning to set up my new tent proficiently and feeling safe from strangers because of the protection of my dog. We visited places I'd never been: Devil's Tower, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Wounded Knee, Yellowstone and the Tetons. Glacier National Park. Southeast Alaska by ferry.

Along the way I met a variety of people, most of whom I expect I'll never meet again: some college students at semester's end, a traveler camping out on his way to a new job, a couple guys camping independently in the Badlands. People camping on the ferry. I didn't meet many other women travelers. I guess there's a reason for that. Before I left on my trip people were worried about me. When I told them I was taking the dog, they seemed a little relieved, but were probably still a bit worried. Yet I couldn't have imagined not taking the journey because I didn't have a human companion. Just days before leaving Milwaukee, I'd been in front of a judge declaring no future claims in case my soon-to-be-former husband won the lottery the next day.

For the previous six months I'd been living in a small apartment in a converted mansion in what some considered the inner-city, but which felt pretty alive and comfortable to me despite my small-town upbringing. Going off on a road-trip on my own felt like the natural thing to do; the only thing to do. It would cleanse me. It would restore me; free me. It was a big leap at a new life that could only happen with a change in location. Once I left, I didn't look back with regret. Not even once.

I remember that as I drove here I'd stop in communities for a day or so, taking my time to stroll around before I headed to the next campsite. I'd take note of places where I'd think, if it doesn't work out in Alaska, I could always move here. That first year was a rough one. Finding a job; eventually moving out of my very understanding sister's rec room into an Anchorage neighborhood.

It took awhile to figure out whether it would work; whether I would fit in here. After a year I met Jon and have continued to meet more and more like-minded people. I remember several years ago, after Jon and I had moved in together. I was headed to Wisconsin to visit my dad while he was having heart surgery. I told Jon I had to go home for a visit, to which he said, "This is home."

And that was when I began to realize that there comes a time when you're no longer a visitor in the community where you decide to live. There comes a time when you become a part of it and you feel connected to the people and the geography and the sky. When you care and you stand up and get involved in issues that are important for the community. That's when you've found the place to call home.

I still go back to visit my family and I love visiting the Lower-48 and other places on trips, but when the jet touches down at the Ted, it's always with great relief that I'm home with the familiar mountains to the east and the moose munching on trees in the neighbor's yard. It's just hard to believe it's been 15 years.

Friday, May 15, 2009

rainbow ride

and I could see the storms in front of the mountains, their flanks covered with a fresh layer of mid-May snow, while at the lower elevations of the city, while rain had fallen much of the day. I made my way up the hill, closer to the clouds, but pedaling in the sunlight. A rainbow, illuminating the birch leaves, freshly cleansed by the day's storm. I rode closer and soon was under the arc, when I heard drops hitting leaves on the trees alongside the gravel path. Then the cloud opened over me and I thought about how one person must have splashed water from a pool and seen light refracted in its drops to discover how this perfect bow is formed. And from then on it was no longer a mystery, but an awareness of how water and light and angles converge to produce this beauty. Yet it still feels like a magical gift.

I crossed a wooden bridge, then entered the roadway where I watched water splash from my front tire into the air and the colors of the world around me were filled with a new level of brightness. The leaves, freshly-opened, nourished, cleansed by the rain, there they were.

And I had left my rain gear at work, having worn it earlier in the day, but not expecting to be caught in the downpour, yet warm enough and not minding, even enjoying, the feeling of the drops as they landed on my sleeves and pants legs.

Sometimes I need to bike in the rain. Sometimes I need to not worry about the day. And sometimes, I need to make discoveries and decisions so that I can find my way back on course.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

bike week

Chester Creek Trail, going green.

Each day the trees grow greener as the leaves open more, softening the lines of the white and brown birch. It's Bike to Work Week, but today, on my day off, I decided I'd ride to an appointment, then bike around town - to the Loussac Library, then to Title Wave bookstore (neither had the book I was seeking... oh well). After navigating the side streets, the still gravel-covered paths and sidewalks of Midtown and Spenard, I headed away from the traffic to Westchester Lagoon.
This duck would dive, then stay underwater for half a minute before popping to the surface 10 feet from where it started.

Anchorage trails on a sunny springtime day are busy with cyclists and runners, walkers, families and disc golf players. Just east of Valley of the Moon Park, Kelli and Anna were practicing some moves on this "silk" they'd hung from a tree along the side of the trail.

Kelli offers Anna some pointers

They were having a good time in the warm sun, drawing some attention from passersby. It looks pretty fun - this from a girl who doesn't like heights. Kelli said they normally practice indoors at UAA, but on such a nice day, they just couldn't stay indoors. If I was more brave, I'd put on a leotard and join them. Hmmm. Just a thought!

Friday, May 8, 2009

early may

On my commute, I ride through neighborhoods, looking at houses and yards. Different parts of Anchorage are at various stages of springtime. I may ride the same route twice a day a few days in a row before noticing something is different. A tree whose leaves are budding, flowers where there were none before, a new piece of yard art. Since I'm on my way someplace, I don't often slow down much, but I guess that's part of the beauty of the commute - it allows me to go slow enough.

In Anchorage, while our creeks are mostly ice free, farther north, on the Yukon and other rivers, there's some very bad flooding as ice jams push through the villages. Spring has so many faces. Normally a time of optimism and maybe a little relief at having made it through another long winter, this spring has been hard for the communities. These are just some things that are on my mind.

springtime and each day
is more green as leaves open
release their sweet smell

daffodils unseen
before rain woke their slumber
bright stars of spring lawns

under my bike tires
gravel crunching, giving way
rolling under tread

Ice floes at flood stage
pushed through another village
winter beauty, spring awe

Sunday, May 3, 2009

race day


Here I am with my friends after some of us finished the race today (a few were about to start and some were still out on the course). I'm wearing the prototype Alaska Fireweed jersey in a women's fit (hopefully, coming soon to a shop near you). It has been a beautiful day and the race went well.

I didn't really have any plans for after the ride. So, I went home and put the new Brooks saddle on the commuter and wiped down the bike a little. Then, in preparation for the Wednesday's annual Alaska Dirt Divas Spring Formal bike ride, I decorated the handlebars, attaching the flowers with velcro.

My neighbors thought it looked very nice, and I agree. I pulled them off before doing a little ride around the neighborhood, so they will be bright and clean for the ride on Wednesday. Now, if only I could figure out what to wear!

new saddle and all dressed up!

another angle...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

why not try?

On a few occasions over the last 10 years, people have told me how much they love their Brooks saddles. I'd look at the saddles when we had a new one in the shop, knock on the leather surface as though I was knocking on a door and wonder why anyone would want to break in one of those things.

I don't like breaking things in - hiking boots, running shoes; they should fit well and not cause me to suffer from day one. As for saddles, I've been a believer for years in those designed by Terry. I have a couple Butterfly models, a Butterfly Gel (on which I toured in New Zealand) and a Liberator.

This spring, we have yet another Brooks enthusiast on staff (that's three of 'em... all guys). So, I thought, why not? I mean, I might find this to be the best saddle ever. A couple of the guys say they don't even wear cycling pants with chamois (I can't imagine).
sure is pretty!

So, tonight I brought home my new honey-colored B17S, along with some Proofide to help soften and break it in. I know there are other things I should be doing this evening, like cleaning my road bike before the race tomorrow, but there's something about new biking equipment that just helps me get excited about a bike again. The B17 is going on the single-speed commuter. I'm hoping that in a matter of just a short amount of time, this saddle will fit me perfectly!

applying conditioner

Friday, May 1, 2009

days like these

Spring found Anchorage this week. The cold gave way to sunny days and above-freezing nights. Roads and paths are being swept. Choosing the road bike is the obvious choice for days like today. People are happy - drivers included!

We had a busy day at the shop - the busiest all season - but the warmth and sunshine lightened the mood, even for those waiting in line to pay for one or two little items or waiting to get information on a bike. A positive vibe filled the shop all day.

Riding home, nearing the Lake Otis path, a first for the season: other riders, recreational riders biking on the path that I so often have to myself when riding to and from work. That, my friends, is the true sign of spring... along with this sign at the Smokejumper Trailhead:

yep, they've been out for awhile, though I've not seen them...

And this one:
How long will it take?

Looks like May could be a busy month as everyone gets ready for the biking season. Recession be damned! Anchorage is going to ride bikes!